Let’s be real. When your kids are biracial, you owe it to them to not take a color blind approach. You can’t let your kids grow up assuming people of color have the same life experiences as white people. Or not prepare them for the world that will be different towards them than it was towards you. You absolutely should be discussing race with them. Don’t assume they will figure it out on their own or that it doesn’t need to be discussed.
When I was growing up I always thought of myself as color blind. I didn’t notice race. It’s embarrassing to admit that I thought this was a good thing. My parents never discussed race so it just never occurred to me to to question if people of other races experienced life differently or to really understand just how deep racism and white privilege goes.
I of course knew what blatant racism was, but I didn’t really understand white privilege until I was an adult and when my children were born I made it my mission to become woke. I can’t live in the cushy lifestyle that white privilege provided and I’m glad. I’m glad that my friends, relationships, and children forced me to become more aware of what other people go through.
When you have biracial kids you too will have to come to the realization your children will not have the same life you had growing up.
I won’t raise my kids to be colorblind or color confused, meaning I will discuss race with them. I will discuss our differences and how we are all beautiful and special in our own way but just because we look different doesn’t mean inside we don’t feel the same things.
I will be aware of the different experiences they have and I will fight for them every step of the way. I will educate people, including my family and friends who know what blatant racism is, but aren’t aware of the privilege they have or what microaggressions are.
Discussing race with my oldest child who is 4 years old, has been tricky. At first I didn’t know how to discuss the delicate topic of racism, (in the past and currently). I wasn’t sure what to discuss with her in terms of racial differences and what that could mean for her. But as I’ve navigated through this, there are some tips that can make it easier to approach this necessary subject with your kids.
Using books is a great way to begin the conversation about race.
You can point out characters that look the same as them, using words that shows those characters in a positive light. For example, look at her beautiful curly hair, her mommy and daddy look like yours, look at his beautiful brown skin, or his brown eyes look like yours! This shows your kids their physical traits are positive instead of a curiosity. They may get that impression because of the things people say to them or because they don’t see themselves represented in many books.
Books are an important way for your kids to be introduced to the subject of race by someone they trust and love! When my daughter and I read a book on Martin Luther King Jr., she started asking why people hated him and what it meant when the signs said ‘White Only’. I tried to explain to her in simple terms that not everyone liked Martin Luther King Jr. because of his skin color. And during that time period, people who had white skin made rules that people with black or brown skin couldn’t go certain places.
Immediately she became very sad and asked if I didn’t like her because she had brown skin and it broke my heart. But I assured her I loved her, I loved her brown skin, and that not all people with white skin feel the way that the people in the book did.
But imagine if I hadn’t had that conversation with her and her first experience with discussing or hearing about race was in school. What if her teacher had read that book to her and she felt like her teacher, or kids at school, or the people in her family didn’t like her because of her skin color?!
Start the conversation early so your kids know you love them exactly how they are. Then they, at the very least, won’t question your feelings for them when they start to hear about history in school.
Empower your kids to use their voice.
For example, a lot of people don’t understand that touching my kid’s hair without asking permission is a microaggression. (I always want to scream at strangers who touch my kid, would you like it if someone you didn’t know came up to you and pet your hair without asking?!) They are fascinated by it and have no qualms reaching out and touching them. It’s infuriating for several reasons. My kid’s hate it, and usually when they tell people that they don’t like it, those people laugh. They think it’s “cute” or “funny” that my kids are telling them no. They call them ‘sassy’ but guess what, it ain’t cute. It’s called respect and you will give it to my kids!
I tell my daughter all the time when we go to family or school events, or even when the situation comes up in public, that she is allowed to tell people to not touch her hair if she doesn’t want them to.
If adults or even other kids don’t respect what your kids are saying to them, then it’s your turn to step in and make sure people understand the message your kid is trying to tell them. When people laugh at my daughter or call her sassy, I tell them she just doesn’t like her hair touched so please don’t touch it. I’ve never had someone not get it after that.
Discuss their racial backgrounds with them.
It is your responsibility to help your kids understand all aspects of who they are, even if you aren’t that race. Giving your kids information about who they are will empower them to love and accept themselves.
I share my German heritage with my kids as well as their Ghanaian and African American heritage. I always let them know they are a beautiful mix of cultures. Knowing their racial backgrounds can also help give them a response to the question, “what are you?”, which they no doubt will be asked throughout their lives. They won’t have to wonder what to say, they can be prepared with a knowledgeable answer, (that is if they choose to answer that question).
Ask if your kids have questions.
Too often adults assume because they discuss stuff with kids, that the kids understand what they are saying. But sometimes young kids may be confused and not know how to ask for clarification. (Like with the complicated topic of Martin Luther King Jr. for example). After you are reading a book, discussing history, talking about their background, or any situation like that, you can ask them if they have any questions. You might be surprised that they do. Take that opportunity to help answer those questions and if you don’t know the answer research it and come back to your child with a well informed answer!
Talking with them when they are young will open the door to talking about race and skin color when they are older.
You want your kids to come to you if they are confused about something they heard, or hurt that someone called them a name or made fun of them, or are feeling torn between what they identify as. By establishing yourself as someone they can trust and discuss this with when they’re young, they’ll come to you when they are older when the issues get tougher.
Discussing race isn’t an easy topic especially if it isn’t something you were brought up talking about. But it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be off limits! Be the safe person your kids can turn to when they want to ask questions or discuss racial issues with. Use books to show them there are characters that look like them and families that look like theirs. Empower them from an early age to use their voice against microaggressions and racism. Learn about their other culture so you can help teach them who they are. Keep the conversation flowing and as they get older you will be that trusted person they can turn to.
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